Men And Ink, Women In Film

Christopher Fowler

Men On Ink

When I was putting together the complete short stories (1984-now) my new young editor, who often looked worried, eyed the vast number of pages with trepidation. Some of the stories were nearly four decades old. 'There's nothing in these pages that's going to come back and bite me in the arse, is there?' he asked. I thought about it and decided that, perhaps beyond a couple of insensitive terms from the times, I should just about get a pass. Our living room faces the glass walls of the Guardian offices. It's like 'Rear Window' with more staplers. You'd think I'd become addicted to watching people work but they don't seem to do much more than visit each other's desks with a single piece of paper in one hand. Where were those sweaty men in striped shirts, armbands and green shades who hurtled from printers to proofs, bellowing all the way, and those tough, hard-drinking gals who matched their bosses copy for copy, shot for shots?But perhaps all those hard-boiled reporters I admired weren't so big after all. The most realistic portrayal of journalists on film is said to be in 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire' - real Fleet Street offices were used as locations, the writer was an old newshound and the editor of the Express even played himself in it even though he couldn't act. But after 90 minutes of watching ace reporter Edward Judd slapping girls' bottoms and tell them to make him coffee, darling, even the most insensitive male would start to feel uncomfortable. But the reason I was desperate to become a writer was connected to this blowsy dog-eat-dog anything-goes cigar-rich atmosphere of its board meetings. I wanted to be Hildy Johnson, not poor Earl Williams, shut inside a rolltop desk. I did not want to be the dead man walking guy cold-calling mourners for subscription renewals. My timing was off; that world had recently vanished and everything was about to be transformed by the arrival of digital type. The paperback market was dying on its feet. Timing is everything. The outbreak of war had ruined the careers of many authors whose books were pulled. Second chances don't come easily. In the early 1980s, 'The Pirates of Penzance' was gloriously remade and the cult film was chosen to spearhead the movement into pay TV, which needed a 'Rocky' or 'Rambo' film. Try to not be the first into anything. Gilbert & Sullivan are not a 'must see'. With pay TV nobody at home knew how to make the technology work and gave up. The film was never seen again. 

Women In Film

I imagine it's a great time to be a woman in the arts & media right now. More readers are female so why shouldn't they be represented in according numbers? Women writers have far more emotional intelligence. Men still don't think holistically. To hear my brother talk about his daughter's pregnancy you'd think he was describing scraping out the boiler. The trouble is that males feel aggrieved, maligned, marginalised, yet when they stop huffing and puffing they produce great work with women. To watch Christian Bale (British) and Margot Robbie (Australian) sparking off each other in 'Amsterdam' is a joy. Then try watching almost any old movie to see a woman standing between two men meekly nodding because she has been assigned no dialogue lines. So I'd wanted to be a Fleet Street cliché. It didn't last. The media industry can only stand a handful, just to show us how fast things are moving away from them. 


Ace (not verified) Sat, 14/01/2023 - 16:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Two films from the journo cinema canon immediately came to mind after reading your post. Billy Wilder's brilliant, and his most cynical offering, the '51 'Ace in the Hole,' starring Kirk Douglas as a sleazy, opportunistic reporter and, to my mind, foreshadowing today's 'clickbait' culture. The second is the superb (in the remembering) Val Guest archetypal 'Fleet Street' effort, 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), with Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janel Munro, which also has a chilling 'back to the future' ring or vibe about it, dealing with climate change. As for 'women in film,' we may well be seeing a revival of the grande dames of the screen of the '40s and '50s and the character treasures like Joan Hickson, Margaret Rutherford, Irene Handl and Thora Hird, among the many, who could hold their own in mixed company, and more often than not, 'showed no quarter' in upstaging their male counterparts.

Ace (not verified) Sat, 14/01/2023 - 17:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry. Must have had a brain freeze. You do mention 'The Day the Earth Caught' fire in your post. Even with its uncomfortable misogyny, I recall it as generally well done as a classic 'Fleet Street' piece and a warning of things to come.

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 15/01/2023 - 06:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good morning Chris, good news about the collection of your short stories and that you’re going to be an uncle. Uncle Christopher, yes, that has a certain ring to it.
Line of the day- “It’s like ‘Rear Window’ with more staplers.” XXXX

Peter T (not verified) Sun, 15/01/2023 - 15:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wasn't James Stewart a news photographer in 'Rear Window'? Will Pete be sent into the Guardian offices, because Chris has seen some suspicious activity, murder or bad spelling?

Stephen Groves (not verified) Sun, 15/01/2023 - 17:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Chris,
I’ll bite you in the arse ,if this short story collection doesn’t come out soon.
All the very best

Gary Locke (not verified) Sun, 15/01/2023 - 20:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Then there's "Sweet Smell of Success", my favorite film about the press. It still cuts like a razorblade.

Jonah (not verified) Sun, 15/01/2023 - 22:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"I wanted to be a Fleet Street cliché." Well, there's the other Fleet Street cliché. To rephrase Time Out - you make a good (literary) Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Ace (not verified) Mon, 16/01/2023 - 16:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'...they don’t seem to do much more than visit each other’s desks with a single piece of paper in one hand.' Probably a takeaway menu. And btw --- you may not have been slapped on the arse and called 'darling' (at least not publicly) but, considering the blatant homophobia on Fleet Street at the time you might have worked there (even the complaints commission condoned the derogatory language then in widespread use in both the broadsheets and the tabloids), I suggest that actually realizing your desire to be a 'Fleet Street cliché' would have ended relatively quickly.

Brooke (not verified) Tue, 17/01/2023 - 17:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ace, well said. But there's Hildy's hat--dope.